The dining and café culture in Phnom Penh is incredible – like, seriously one of the best places for food and drink I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. You can get (good) food from all over the world, you can enjoy a pot of tea in a comfortable atmosphere – and almost always for a tiny cost. Here are my eight top café picks for this city that I have come to love very much.
ALMA Café – Street 123 (on the corner of Street 454)
I love Mexican food. I’d quite happily eat tostadas, tortilla soup, and frijoles all day every day. There are a few decent enough Mexican places in Phnom Penh but there is one that eclipses the rest in terms of Authentic Mexican cuisine. ALMA is a small café by the Russian market and is consequently a popular place with the expat crowd, many of whom live close by. The difference with this place is that it’s managed by Mexicans – as a result, the food is nothing short of amazing each and every time. Gorge on huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, and big fat burritos, as well as a selection of very enticing puddings and desserts. ALMA is only open between 7am and 2pm so the atmosphere is very much that of a café rather than that of a restaurant. Come here, bring your friends, and enjoy the food – it’s awesome.
The breakfast menu
Dessert at ALMA
ARTillery -Street 240 ½ and 278
Another great café with an array of raw vegan options, if you’re into that kind of thing. In spite of raw vegan-ness the place isn’t populated with hippies and it doesn’t feel pretentious – just a lovely place to hang out in a comfortable atmosphere with great food and very attentive service. They serve cheddar cheese sandwiches and proper British tea, so I was pretty much won over on my first visit. The 240 ½ location is bloody difficult to find, so like, good luck with that. I think that it’s nicer than its location on Street 278 in the expat area, so do make the effort to find the hidden alley of 240 ½.
Friends Coffee – Street 125
If I wasn’t living on the same street as this place I would have never entered ‘Friends’ but I am bloody glad that I did. The place has a local feel (basically not very slick), but in fact it’s a Vietnamese café that serves up Vietnamese grub and drinks and stupidly cheap prices. I love it primarily because of the kitsch feel of the place which is crammed full of family photographs and ornaments. The place is uber-camp but I don’t think that the owner realizes.
Brown Coffee – Street 51
Brown is a small chain of coffee shops here in Phnom Penh, and I’d usually veer away of telling you to visit a chain store, but the drinks are just so good that I would urge anybody to visit the place. Plump for their signature iced coffee drinks such as the ‘Brown Delight’ which is full of yummy stuff like palm sugar, mocha, whipped cream, and a caramel sauce. The staff also know a thing or two about customer service, in a city where it can be lacking.
Café Soleil – Street 278
When I’m stuck for ideas of somewhere to enjoy an inexpensive lunch in a relaxed atmosphere, Café Soleil on the main expat street is my go-to place. This is a completely Vegetarian café that serves up fantastic Western coffee and a range of vegetarian Khmer dishes. The cost of dishes starts from a ridiculously cheap $2 for a vegetable noodle soup – but my recommendation would be the crispy noodle salad with chopped up spring rolls, which I keep coming back for.
Studio 701 – Street 93
This is another place close to my house, but far more western in its feel than ‘Friends’. The seating here is very comfortable – I often have a massive sofa all to myself – and the staff are friendly, but it’s the tea that I keep returning for. At Studio 701, you can get yourself a massive (I’m talking 8 cups worth) pot of Earl Gray tea for the teeny tiny price of $1.50. As a tea lover, I end up here 3-4 times in a week. The salads are great too.
Here they are doing the Harlem Shake:
Momo Milk Green Tea – Street 105
This Japanese style place is a bubble tea place where the young affluent Khmer community hangs out. I’m not such a big fan of bubble tea, but you can get all kinds of iced drinks here and you will see many of the Momo crowd tucking into the green tea frappes that are so endlessly popular in Phnom Penh. This is not a place where I would come to work because the music is always pretty loud, but as a place to have a cool drink with a friend, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it.
Java Café & Gallery - Sihanouk Boulevard
This was the very first café that I visited in Phnom Penh, and it made me realize what a great city this is. The service is impeccable, the coffee is great, and the food is consistently delish – mostly serving up Western dishes. The café also doubles up as a gallery, and during the time I’ve been staying here, there have been two fantastic exhibitions. Also, be sure to get there in the early evening when they have great deals on their cocktails.
The entrance to Java.
Every single one of these places has free wifi because Phnom Penh is just great like that. So take your laptop and get some work done, or take a friend and enjoy a cool drink and some decent grub. I hope you enjoy the awesome café culture in Phnom Penh as much as me.